Reading Guatemala: The Popol Vuh

A foreign power attempting to wipe out an ancient religion and culture. A story formed by oral tradition, written down by an unknown scribe in hopes that future generations would know their own history. That’s how the Popul Vuh came to be. And it’s an honor and a privilege to be able to experience it now.

The Popul Vuh is sometimes referred to as The Mayan Bible, but that’s misleading. It doesn’t claim to be the Word of God, or a spiritual text that tells the faithful how to live life. It’s the origin story¬† and cosmology of the Quiche Maya, who live in what is now modern-day Guatemala. The Quiche refer to it as an Ilb’al – an “instrument of sight” – and also as “The Book of the Mat”, since it was traditionally told to an audience of people sitting on woven mats

There are tales of silent nothingness, restless and vengeful gods, the making of the first men and women. The book concludes with the genealogy and migration of the Quiche Maya, and with this mournful passage:

This is enough about the being of Quiche, given that there is no longer a place to see it. There is the original book and ancient writing owned by the lords, now lost, but even so, everything has been completed here concerning Quiche, which is now named Santa Cruz.

There are numerous translations available, but I chose the one by Dennis Tedlock. I just read that he passed away last year, which makes me very sad; there are quite a few very lovely tributes to him out in the world which goes to show what an impact he had. He’s left a great legacy of translated works from both the Maya, and the Zuni people in the American Southwest. I’ll be moving on from the Popul Vuh to his translation of the Rabinal Ach√≠, a Mayan drama that survives from pre-Columbian times and that’s still performed annually in Guatemala. How cool is that? While I’m at it, I’m also reading a couple of books by his wife, Barbara Tedlock. It’s like a light switch has flipped for me, and I’ll be learning all I can about this corner of the world…stay tuned!

An original painting showing figures from the Popol Vuh
Popol Vuh, Oriente (image by Cuilomerto (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons)

Country #38: Guatemala

Back to Central America! I’m never gone very long, and that suits me just fine.

Looking forward to what will be a very interesting adventure, I’m sure.

Reading about Panama: The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez

Panama, country #27, didn’t make finding a book easy. The English-language choices were mostly about the building of the canal, or US military intervention – and everything was by white guys. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that…I just was not in the mood. Finally I came upon The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez, and I’m really glad I did.

It’s story of a young woman, Miraflores, trying to find her place in the world while coming to terms with some pretty heavy family issues. Where does she belong? Who IS she? Tough questions that we all have to sort through; she has to do it with one foot in the American Midwest and one in Panama.

This is a kind and gentle book. I loved Mira’s voice – she’s confident, brave, and well-adjusted, and I enjoyed getting to know her. She’s written as a real person; she’s not some super hero that strides the earth, conquering all obstacles with ease. She knows, she doesn’t know, she tries to find out, sometimes she wins and sometimes she loses…just like the rest of us.

The author conveys a very solid sense of place; her affection for both Chicago and Panama is evident in her writing. Overall, a really enjoyable book and a much appreciated breath of fresh air.

Panama City, Panama at night
Panama City, Panama at night
(image by SaavedraVS (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Country #27 – Panama

I’m just bouncing back and forth between Africa and Central America at this point…which I don’t mind at all.

Country #27 is Panama. Glad to be visiting!